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Crude posts biggest weekly losses since 2008, hit by coronavirus and Saudi price war

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Oil prices on Friday posted their biggest week of losses since the 2008 global financial crisis, rocked by the coronavirus outbreak and efforts by top exporter Saudi Arabia and its allies to flood the market with record levels of supply.

[NEW YORK] Oil prices on Friday posted their biggest week of losses since the 2008 global financial crisis, rocked by the coronavirus outbreak and efforts by top exporter Saudi Arabia and its allies to flood the market with record levels of supply.

The rare combination of severe shocks to both supply and demand has caused the crude market to collapse as producers around the world steel themselves for an unexpected glut of oil in coming weeks.

"It's a problem of an oil price war in the middle of a constricting market when the walls are closing in," US energy historian Daniel Yergin said.

The coronavirus sparked panic selling across markets for the bulk of the week. The virus has infected at least 138,000 people worldwide and killed more than 5,000, disrupting business, markets and daily life.

Major oil producers were pumping more crude into the market as demand collapses. Saudi Arabia has chartered more than 30 crude supertankers to export oil in coming weeks, specifically targeting big refiners of Russian oil in Europe and Asia, in an escalation of its fight with Moscow for market share.

Goldman Sachs said it now expected a record oil surplus of six million barrels per day (bpd) by April, in a global market that usually consumes about 100 million bpd.

On Friday, prices were higher, rebounding after the United States and other nations signalled plans to support weakening economies. But Brent crude dropped 25 per cent on the week, the biggest weekly fall since the 2008 global financial crisis. On Friday, Brent rose US$0.63 to settle at US$33.85 a barrel.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell about 23 per cent on the week, their biggest percentage decline since 2008. WTI rose US$0.23 to settle at US$31.73 a barrel, after earlier gaining to US$33.87 a gallon.

Hopes for a US stimulus package that could ease an economic shock from the coronavirus provided some support to the oil and stock markets on Friday.

"There's hope that all the stimulus will stabilise the economy and offset some of the concerns about weaker demand and keep parts of the economy strong enough to support oil prices," said Phil Flynn, analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest exporter, and the United Arab Emirates offered more oil to customers after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries' (OPEC) talks with Russia and others on supply restraint collapsed last week.

Russia, the world's second-largest producer, has shown no interest in agreeing to further output curbs with OPEC.

Russian oil producers met Energy Minister Alexander Novak on Thursday but did not discuss a return to the deal. The head of Gazprom Neft said it planned to hike production in April, following the talks.

A Reuters survey showed analysts slashed their forecasts of Brent crude prices to US$42 a barrel on average in 2020, compared with the US$60.63 consensus in a February poll.

But the price slump may reduce some supply, by forcing out more costly producers.

Energy companies in the United States, which has surged to become the world's biggest crude producer because of a boom in pricier shale oil, are preparing to cut investment and drilling plans due to plunging prices.

The US oil drilling rig count rose for a second week in a row despite a massive drop in both oil and natural gas prices this week and expectations from many analysts that the number of rigs will fall as producers deepen spending cuts.

Companies added one oil rig in the week to March 13, bringing the total count to 683, their highest since December, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said on Friday.

REUTERS